Church Vibe group bids to move into empty Armagh bar
Armagh is set to get a new place of worship - in a former pub and nightclub.
Independent church Vibe has applied for planning approval to convert a vacant bar and nightclub in the city into an "ecclesiastical" site.
It is now using its website to sell a seat in its extended church - and in the process fund the £1.5m building project.
The church is based at Little Barrack Street, where it promises worshippers "passionate preaching from God's word in a way that is easy to understand".
It also has a cafe which raises money for the Third World.
Now it is asking Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council for permission to extend from Little Barrack Street into neighbouring premises.
The church is requesting a change of use to allow for an extension for the purpose of "ecclesiastical use".
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The location, 3 Scotch Street, used to be the home of Calverts Tavern, with Spiders Nightclub located at the back.
While a change of use from a church into a pub is a common occurrence - for example, pub giant Wetherspoon's is engaged in a long-term project to convert a former Methodist Church in Belfast into one of its bars - it is rare for a bar to be turned into a church.
Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland and is graced by two St Patrick's cathedrals - one Church of Ireland and the other Catholic.
Vibe is one of its newer religious movements, beginning in 2006 as a group of young people. It hopes to have services for 850 people a day in the new building.
The building will be able to seat 425 at a time, though it is hoping to hold double services.
"We would like you to purchase a seat for these 850 people," its website said, explaining worshippers can fund seats by paying £30 per month for five years.
The website added: "Like any good house you need a seat to sit in. Seats are a funny thing. They are really important but not much thought is really given to them.
"Each person, in each seat, in every meeting, whether a church meeting or something else, has a personal story to tell, a purpose in life to live for and an opportunity to encounter Jesus."
Sinn Fein councillor Garath Keating welcomed the development of the Scotch Street site.
"I'm absolutely delighted by this building being brought back into use as it's been lying vacant for the last number of years," he said.
And while he had not experienced the church's ministry himself, he had used its coffee shop.
"They are a group of really good people who do great things, including reaching out to other nationalities living in Armagh," Mr Keating added.